Wah Hing Chinese Cuisine
15512 Highway 41, Rathdrum,
"Do not mistake temptation for opportunity." ~ Fortune cookie.
It was uncanny how much this paper Chinese Zodiac placemat knew about my personality. The tiny red print below an illustration of a rat, my animal sign, read “You are ambitious yet honest. Prone to spend freely. Seldom make lasting friendships.” I have a few longtime pals who might disagree with the latter notion but maybe it’s true at least with Horses, who according to the zodiac, are supposed to be my arch enemies. However, my ambitions are many and honesty is my only policy, frequently to the point of being savagely blunt. Likewise, when it comes to dining out, I frequently go through dollars faster than the People’s Republic of China goes through oolong tea.
Spending freely was the plan when I called a friend and offered to get us lunch at North Idaho’s newest entry into the Chinese Restaurant scene, Wah Hing in Rathdrum. I’ve said it many times; the original Wah Hing over in Kellogg serves the best Chinese cuisine in the Panhandle. My tummy was all aflutter with excitement earlier this month when I ventured through town to run an errand and spotted their sign, along with an overflowing parking lot and dozens of hungry Rathdrumites lined up to check out the latest town hot spot. I was hungry as an ox (who, by the way, is bright, patient and inspiring to others) but I wasn’t in the mood to mix it up with such a large crowd.
For my return attempt, my strategy was to go early, before the lunch rush hit. It worked. There were only three other tables occupied when we slid into one of the spacious booths, ten minutes after the 11 a.m. opening time. We both immediately commented on how crisp and clean the place seemed, with colorful hanging jellyfish lamps and the faint aromas of fresh white paint and brand new carpet. The place is bright and extremely well lit, so much so that I was having subconscious urges to photosynthesize like the lotus flowers depicted in the back-lit wall art. Our waitress presented our tea and menus like she was performing some kind of arcane good fortune ceremony.
As we investigated the menu, good things were happening that had us thinking we were in for the real deal. We overheard another customer ordering something indistinguishable, and the waitress teased him with “oh, you order that every time you’re here…” For a place to be only open for a few weeks and already have heavy-duty regulars is a good sign of success. Next, another server came through the room with a dramatically noisy tray of food, something which crackled like fireworks on Chinese New Year. I caught her on her way back through and she told me the magic dish was called, appropriately enough, Chicken Sizzling.
I was tempted to go for the sizzle, but I always need to sample a variety of things to get a well-rounded impression. Combination Dinner No. 10 would do the trick, with its promise of soup, Hong Kong LoMein, Almond Chicken, barbeque pork, and an egg roll. The waitress gave us the choice of either Egg Flower or Hot & Sour soup, which always earns big bonus points with me. We both needed a good sinus burnout, and Hot & Sour is usually quite effective in that area. The soup came instantly and it was as incredible as I’d hoped. It was a fresh batch, texturally delicate and with a flavor powerful enough to make anyone consider tossing the Actifed.
Act two arrived and we marveled at the mouthwatering visuals laid out before us. If Chinese food were impressionist art, this would be the equivalent of a Cézanne still life. Okay, that description is a little corny, but let’s just say our combo meals looked eminently edible. As expected, everything was as close to perfection as possible. The Almond Chicken was served as a whole, sliced breast coated in an incredibly light, crisp tempura-like fry batter and covered in a savory pale yellow sauce. I’ve never encountered a place so generous with barbeque pork; six fat slices lined the edge of my plate. The chow mein was done stir-fry style, with soft noodles and fresh veggies and the egg roll was also fried mercifully gently, free from the oodles of stale grease that can sometimes render them just plain unappetizing.
My lunch partner was equally impressed with his Sweet & Sour chicken, saying that the opaque red glaze tasted like it was just whipped up ten minutes ago especially for him. He agreed with me that with such remarkably cordial service, an inviting atmosphere, and an undeniable finesse for delivering a better-than-average culinary experience, Wah Hing Rathrdrum was a five star joint. And that’s a pretty bold statement coming from such a timid, unassuming Sheep.